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(re)designing the body

“Changing power dynamics comes with tactile engagement and bodily change: a transsomatechnical process”—Mijke van der Drift

Architects such as Le Corbusier have offered standardized and reductive interpretations of the body. This impacts how public space is assumed to envelop people. However, the experience of our bodies is often different from standard models, and we thus inhabit space differently. This leads to the question of whether we can extend the experience of our environment in such a way that we move beyond reductive approaches. If we can manage to shift our way of being, would it be possible to go further and create a new form of global locality that is non-reductive and remains open? Reflecting on the experiences of Helena Dietrich’s 22h Bodily Reading Conference and Vivien Tauchmann’s Self-as-Other Training, the evening addressed the question of whether our bodies can be concrete vessels for non-immediate social change and empathy.

During “Tumbling Wor(l)ds: 22h reading the body through the body,” Helena Dietrich invited Catalina Insignares, Carolina Mendonca, Thomas Prkosch, and Lili M. Rampre to create temporary spaces at the Muntplein/Place de la Monnaie that challenge its prevalent body politics. Over a period of 22 hours, they guided their guests to investigate texts about the relationship between body definitions and environments through their bodies. By reading, listening, moving, dancing, and sleeping to feminist, queer, and occult voices, they created a heterotopian space, a parallel reality at the Muntplein.

Vivien Tauchmann’s recent work “Self-as-Other Trainings” is an ongoing research project that initiates an embodied approach to education on a kinesthetic level. Rather than representing the underlying politics and the subjects of discrimination in a known mediatic format, she re-enacts the embodied experience at the scale of the human, which changes how we can observe and experience a condition of otherness. The experiential performances, where the designer and the participants become the material and the research tool itself, give an introduction into the physical realities of the “other” through repetitive and mimetic motions that represent everyday hardships.

In the context of the new local, she took the Muntplein’s consumerist identity as a starting point for dissecting economic complexities and the invisible forms of labor that inform global inequalities. Through a process of active embodiment, she aims to explore a new dialogue between the local and the global. Where do we explore moments of self-reflection and individual responsibility? How does the exercise reshape our connection to people beyond our known scope? How do we adopt a politics of everyday life that creates empathic and unbiased forms of communication and deconstructs notions of “otherness”?

Audio mapping of Place de la Monnaie during the installation “self-as-other-trainings” by Vivien Tauchmann.
Coordinates of the microphone 50°51’00″N 4°21’11″E
Coordinates of the artwork 50°50’59.7″N 4°21’11.5″E

The simple physical action of the performer is unusual compared to the habitual actions normally visible within the public space, and it strongly attracts the attention of the pedestrians. Some gestures and moves remind of ancient tribal dances. From the closest benches, some people seat and observe. The gesture is de-contextualized, not only from the space of mass production but also from the objects, tools and machines this gesture links to. Even though the architecture that hosts the moves disappears, thus leaving only sounds and movements, the gestures do not lose their meaning. The physicality of the space does not have any relationship with them. Local and global vanish, they persist as concepts, they correspond with the space itself, or with its absence, into the negative space, into the non-presence of any architecture that could characterize them. The action of a worker of the Chinese Republic echoes into a European square.

What does determine the areas, and their use, of a public square? For sure urban furniture has a strong influence, but also, if not even more, its life connected, for instance, with environmental/climatic factors such as light and shadow. How much do summer and winter influence the life of a public space? Vivien Tauchmann during her performance moved to a point of the square protected from the sun, thus leaving, in fact, her previous sunny place.

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